Nationals Notebook: Picking up the pieces and going home

How is this for symmetry? The Nationals season that began with three straight losses to the New York Mets ends with three straight losses to the Mets.

As the year wraps up and the Nationals finish 55-107 — for their worst mark since moving to D.C., we let the dust settle quickly before moving on. And it’s been quite a year, with the departure of future franchise-cornerstone Juan Soto — two-plus years before free agency.

Ain’t Missing You: Sometimes both parties are hurting after the breakup. Juan Soto finished the season by hitting .236 for San Diego after batting .246 for the Nats.

Other numbers adjusted for 162 games were: 99 runs scored with the Washington to 97 for the Padres, 34 homers for D.C. to 19 for San Diageo, 74 RBI for the Nationals to 50 for the Padres.

It was worse for Josh Bell, who batted .192 out west after hitting .301 with the Nats (he was the team’s leading hitter before his plate appearances no longer qualified). Runs scored projected over 162 games (82 to 79) didn’t take that much of a hit, but his other numbers cratered: 38 doubles to 15, 22 homers to 9 and 90 RBI to 43. Have fun facing the Dodgers!

Digesting the Division: Atlanta (101-61) only needed to win one game to wrap up the NL East and they did so — owning the tiebreaker over the New York Mets (101-61), who were in first place for the first 138 games of the season and 176 days overall.

There’s no banner for that — only the wild card round. And 101 regular season wins is no guarantee of advancing in the postseason, as we learned Sunday night. Philadelphia (87-75) finished a game ahead of Milwaukee for the final playoff spot, and swept NL Central champ St. Louis (it feels like the No. 6 team always beat the Central champ when the NFL expanded its playoffs too). They face Atlanta in the NLDS.

Miami (69-93) finished with the record I thought the Nats would post at the beginning of the year as Don Mattingly steps down from the Marlins’ dugout, while the Nationals (55-107) take last place for the third straight year.

Birds Learning to Fly: No, they don’t give banners for “most improved” — but one needs to tip the cap to the Orioles, who recorded their first winning season since 2016.

While they didn’t make the playoffs, one has to feel the building blocks are there. The average age of their batters was the sixth-youngest in MLB this year and the average age of their pitchers was the seventh-youngest in the majors. It’s morning in the Charm City …

Last Week’s Heroes: Alex Call and Riley Adams each hit .333, with a homer and two RBI. Reliever Erasmo Ramirez tossed three scoreless innings over two games, while Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey each threw two scoreless over two outings.

Last Week’s Humbled: Starting pitching was an issue all season and for rookie Cory Abbott to post the best outing after allowing four runs over four innings says something.

Erick Fedde allowed nine runs over 2.2 innings and Paolo Espino got one out, while being charged for five runs (doing the math that is an ERA of 189.0 for that start). Luke Voit ended the season in a 1-for-12 slump (. 083), while Lane Thomas’ 1-for-11 dipped his season batting average to .241.

Taking Stock of the Season: Cesar Hernandez led the team in hits (139), batting average among qualifiers (. 248), runs (64), doubles (28), and triples (4). Nelson Cruz was the top RBI man (64), while Lane Thomas’ 17 homers wasn’t enough to surpass Juan Soto’s 21 over the final two months (he had eight after Soto’s trade).

Of course, Joey Meneses (. 324 with 13 HR and 34 RBI over 56 games) won the late-summer/dog days of the season. Josiah Gray led the team with seven wins, but did not post a victory after July 6. Patrick Corbin recorded a team-high 152.2 innings but went 6-19 with an ERA of 6.31.

Hunter Harvey had the best ERA out of the bullpen at 2.52, while Tanner Rainey led the club with 12 saves.

Keys for 2023: Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. They need to get some quality arms in-house to move guys like Erick Fedde and Josiah Gray from the 1-2 or 2-3 spots in the rotation to 3-4 or 4-5.

Patrick Corbin needs to figure out what’s going on after two historically bad seasons: the last pitcher to lead the NL in losses consecutive years was Phil Niekro (from 1978-80), the last pitcher to lead the majors in defeats back to back seasons was Roger Craig in 1962-63 (he was with the expansion Mets, so he kind of gets a pass here).

Sadly, the Nationals can’t expect to get anything at this point from the oft-injured Stephen Strasburg, who has pitched 31.1 innings since being named World Series MVP (he tossed 36.1 innings in the playoffs that October).

In the field and at the plate, the Nats need a leadoff hitter (Nationals leadoff hitters ranked 27th in batting average and 28th in on base percentage this year), plus a third baseman (on base percentage + slugging ranked 27th) and perhaps a designated hitter (26th).

Perhaps Carter Kieboom comes back after having Tommy John surgery to claim the spot they were hoping he’d claim in 2020?

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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